Beware of minor SPOILERS for SGU‘s “Human” in the interview below!
Almost like the dependability of a Swiss watch, the staff here at GateWorld loves to sit down with Michael Shanks every six months or so if we get the chance. Another occasion presented itself this past August, when we traveled to Chicago to talk to him during Creation Entertainment’s Official Stargate Convention.
While our talks with Michael aren’t always lengthy due to time constraints in a convention setting, they are always opinionated and informative. Our latest conversation with the actor is no exception.
In this interview, Michael discusses his views on the re-cut “Children of the Gods,” his upcoming guest role on Sanctuary, and his impressions of Stargate Universe based on his time on the sets. Always the diplomat — much like his peacemaker counterpart on SG-1 — Shanks talks candidly about fan reaction to the series.
This interview runs almost 13 minutes and is available in audio. It’s also transcribed below!
GateWorld: So how are you, Michael?
Michael Shanks: I’m fine! How are you?
GW: I am good! Good to see you again! This is becoming a monthly…every-few-months thing.
MS: Whether we need to or not! [Laughter]
GW: So how are things going?
MS: Fine! Great!
GW: A lot of traveling back and forth, or are you still…?
MS: Yes, back and forth. And I’m actually just on my way en route to Australia right now. So I’m not stopping back home to go shoot a movie in Hobart, Australia. And I’ve been very busy landscaping all summer long and renovating.
GW: Nice. Are you guys still in L.A. right now?
MS: No, we’re back in Vancouver.
GW: [Let’s] start off easy. Have you had the chance to see the recut of “Children of the Gods” at all?
MS: I have not! I have not. I don’t know where to find it. Maybe I’m one of the demographic that’s dropped off of the DVD market. Because I haven’t been to the video store in a long time. I have not had a chance to see the finished version or see the differences.
GW: I know Brad [Wright] put a lot of time into it. Do you think the effort to do that…to go back and fix [it was worth it]? It’s almost kind of like he was George Lucas-ing it. But not to the degree that Lucas did. Do you think that it’s worthwhile to try to bridge…?
MS: I don’t know. It’s one of those things … The cost-benefit ratio — only Brad and MGM will know. For the fans, is it worth it? In terms of correcting the glaring things? Sure.
Listen, I’m a perfectionist by nature. I would sit there and love to be able to go back and re-do performances I did if I could. In terms of crafting it, I think that’s a question for the fans. I mean, I’ve made peace with how the pilot ended up and where we wanted it to be, and what ended up on the finished product. And we understood the reasons at the time, so we kind of knew the conformity that had to go on for that particular vehicle.
So in my mind, it was already finished the way Brad had done it. Probably not to the level of detail, obviously. I don’t live in his head. But I had understood his reasons for wanting to eliminate the nudity. I understood certain speeches that needed to be taken out. Certain scenes and some performances and whatever.
Things were done with agendas in mind. With those agendas not being so prevalent [now], yeah, you can play with it. Again, I don’t know what it cost to put all [those] pieces together or if they are going to recoup it. For fans of the show, I’ll have to wait to watch it to see if it was worth all the trouble that they went through. But in terms of “Does it really make a huge-enough difference to warrant re-doing it?” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.
GW: Well, Season Two of Sanctuary is coming up, and you are guesting in an episode with Amanda [Tapping]. And you’re playing a character named “Jimmy.”
MS: I’m playing Jimmy!
GW: What can you tell us about him without going into many details?
MS: Right! What can I tell you about Jimmy the pooch? Jimmy the pouch? Jimmy the pooch? What can I tell you about Jimmy?
GW: How big of a departure from Daniel?
MS: Oh, it’s a complete departure from Daniel. Jimmy’s a hustler, and a bit of a grifter. But for the most part, he’s like a bag man for the mob. In all truth of it, without giving too much of the episode away, he’s an abnormal who has a special ability, or special feature, which allows him to transport certain materials in a special place on his body. [Laughter] It sounds kind of funny, but not half as much fun as we had with it on set.
In transporting something to the Sanctuary, the process gets interrupted. And he ends up spending a great deal of time with a member of the cast. So, that being said, I think that’s all the detail I can really give away. But the character is very different. He’s got a tragic and edgy kind of background, and he’s a bit of a streetwise type. Certainly more than Daniel was. It’s a very strong departure from him.
GW: Was it nice being able to work with Amanda again? And seeing Damian [Kindler] and the old [crew]?
MS: It was great! The one thing I loved about it, not that I doubted it for a second…oddly enough, the feeling on that show was more “old Stargate” than the Stargate show was that I just finished doing, Universe. Just because so many of the original heads of departments and stuff are now over there. [Costume Designer] Christina McQuarrie and Brenda [Turner, hair stylist]. Teamsters and trailers and blah, blah, blah.
And then as well as having Martin [Wood], Amanda and Damian at the helm of it. It’s very ego-free. The other actors there are very lucid and very down-to-earth. And very talented. No egos. It was just a very nice, pleasant family vibe. Very similar to the Stargate vibe of many years gone by. It was just a joy to shoot with them, and to see them again. And see them doing well.
GW: You’ve logged a little bit of time now on some of the SGU sets. What are your impressions of the show thus far? Just in the time that you’ve spent – the little bit you did for the pilot and we know you’re going to be in an episode in the second half of the first season also. The cast? The writing? The style? Atmosphere?
MS: It’s very different. And I don’t want to make anybody gun-shy about the differences.
I can say this. The shows, at the end of each episode, they don’t wrap up nicely in a nice little bow. They’re not bottle shows. It’s very much [an] arc driven series. The interplay between the characters bleeds into the next one, and the next one, and the next one. The tensions and the relationships. So it’s very arc driven. By missing an episode of SG-1? Eh, no big deal. Missing an episode of this might be a bit confusing for the viewers. So that makes it a little bit [different].
But also, once you invest yourself in it, I think the investment you’ll get back in return in terms of the interactions with the characters and in terms of the relationships and in terms of the grittier dynamic.
Honestly, I was talking about the show to Rob [Cooper] and Brad. And seeing what little I’ve seen of it, and reading about it. As an actor, it’s a show I think I would have liked to have been on more than the show I was on simply for the fact that the character interaction boils down to a more microscopic level. It’s much more about what goes on between the people in terms of dealing with the situation than [actually] dealing with the situation. “And we have to be here at the end of Act Three. And we have to be here at Act Four. By the end of the thing, we have to be all wrapped up and patting each other on the backs.”
There’s a lot more room for that development of character interaction. And you can spread it out a lot more. So as an actor, boy, that’s Christmas time! You get to really dig into these relationships and really dig into these characters. And the way they’re filming it is certainly a lot different. It’s much more visceral. Much more eavesdropping kind-of way. Much more in-your-face kind of way. Less flat than the way we shot our show.
There’s some profound differences to it. And I think a lot of people will be taken aback by that, and possibly disappointed with that. But I think to evolve the show, and to have another series going forward … to continue to hammer away at the same things and try to milk it … I think there is more danger…and more insult of the audience to continue to try to play the same note all the time and hope that everybody keeps dancing then it is to shake it up and really evolve the series. It’s not just about creating a new audience. It’s about giving your existing audience something new to watch.
I think that one of things that people should respect about this show is that what they’ve always felt about the Stargate universe is that they love the characters. They want to know the characters more. This show is going to allow you to do that. More so than the opportunities that we had in doing our series.
If that is what people always loved about it, this is the show that’s going to give [it to them]. Is it going to have as much humor in it? I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. I doubt it. But there’s certainly going to be a lot more character-driven drama, angst, conflict, relationship and interaction than ever in a Stargate show. I think that is certainly a reason to give it a chance.
GW: Is it safe to assume that you’re guest part in the second half of the season — in “Human” — [is] a flashback?
MS: Yes…and no. [Laughter]
It’s hard for me to explain myself without giving away the entire context. But basically the way to put it in…it’s kind of a flashback. But it’s also the fact that the flashback is slightly different. Basically I play a figment of Robert Carlyle’s imagination. And that’s the only way I can put it without giving away too much.
There’s a few other characters in there that are also part of the same through-line. And that’s where I was wondering. I read it and I went “I don’t know where this is going!” My character kind of pops in and pops out and I’m not really understanding why. I’m like everybody else and going “OK, I’ll have to wait and see.”
GW: I’m assuming you still haven’t heard anything from Brad or Rob. Have you seen anything in regards to the third movie? Obviously it’s not going to move forward anytime soon. Has there been discussion?
MS: Yeah, the only discussion… I had a discussion with Rob about it. And it’s no different than the discussion I had previously. MGM is concerned about the DVD market. And when you’re doing a direct-to-DVD movie, that is a bit of a concern. When you see a forty percent falling off of sales, or something to that note.
One thing I can say about delaying it, and I was saying it to the audience [at the Q&A] today. It’s good for everybody from the sense of if you’re going to do it, do it right. Do it at the right time. Because if we did it, and it fell on its face… we wouldn’t be doing any more. That’s just the nature of the business. You couldn’t get people to invest their money. It’s like a fund.
GW: It’s all about economics.
MS: Yeah! It’s all about economics. And if people think this is a risky proposition or that the well has dried up. When it comes to this, then if you want to do a fourth one, no matter how much begging or pleading you’re going to do, if this one falls on its face just because of the economic situation right now, then we got a problem. We’re not going to do another one.
If we can do it a few months later, with possibly a different economic situation or a different marketplace evolving at that point, then you have an opportunity to be able to continue to do more.
So you don’t want to rush it just because we’re dying to see one. You kind of want to do it right. So you have to respect the money men in this business, of course. Because that’s what makes it all happen. That’s the reason I’ve heard. I’ve also heard a December-January possibility. But I think it’s kind of like saying to your kids, “We’ll see.” As a parent, you always go, “We’ll see,” and what you really mean is, “I don’t know. Ask me again next week.”
GW: A final question for you. We’re on the eve of a new Stargate series coming out. And obviously it’s a lot different than what’s come before it. Is there anything that you can say from your personal experience to kind of calm fan’s nerves that may be “ehhh” about jumping in to something so different from what they’ve been used to in the 13 thirteen years?
MS: I think watch the show. I’ve never seen so many knives being sharpened for a show being aired, especially by the fans of the franchise, as I’ve seen over this past year when it came to Universe. I’ve also seen a lot of love for it. I shouldn’t just say [knife throwing]. But I’m just surprised at the waiting-in-the-wings tension that is almost desirous for this thing to fall on its face.
And I think that’s a mistake. I think the most important thing is watch the show. Judge from what you see. I didn’t think much about it until I watched the trailer that they had done for the pilot and I went, “Wow! This looks cool!” And I know from interacting with that cast, they’ve got a great group there. They’ve got some amazing actors led by the profoundly amazing Robert Carlyle, who I couldn’t say enough about. I think it’s worth a look. I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. And I think there is a lot to be seen.
GW: Just give it a chance?
MS: Give it a chance. Absolutely.
Interview and transcript by Chad Colvin